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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Cougar Bay saga comes to fine end

The Spokesman-Review

In the end, cantankerous John Pointner got everything he wanted – a headstone expressing his defiant love for nature, preservation for the private refuge he protected for four decades, and a final resting place near the tulies.

As frustrating as Pointner was, the region should be grateful he held out until the conditions were met for the sale of his 155-acre Cougar Bay property.

As a result, the public now owns – free, clear and cheaply – a sanctuary two minutes west of Coeur d’Alene that provides wetlands habitat for 146 types of birds, 100 kinds of plants, black bear, beaver, moose and deer. When Kootenai County and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management agreed two years ago to pay Pointner $5,000 a month for as long as he lived, they got the centerpiece to a broader refuge with more than twice the acreage and shoreline as Tubbs Hill.

The John Pointner Memorial Wildlife Refuge was considered paid in full when its namesake died on Memorial Day.

The region owes a debt of gratitude to Pointner for stubbornly negotiating with one entity after another until he was satisfied that his land would be preserved after his death – and to Coeur d’Alene attorney Scott Reed and others who fought to save adjoining parcels from development. With 98 percent of Lake Coeur d’Alene’s shoreline privately owned and developers snapping up waterfront along the Spokane River, the historic struggle and Pointner’s begrudging largesse will be recalled as one of the finer episodes in Lake Coeur d’Alene’s history.

The preservation effort began a dozen years ago when Reed and fellow conservationists launched a long-shot effort to stop a Hawaiian developer from building homes on Cougar Bay. Neither a willing buyer nor a willing seller existed at the time.

Eventually, the Nature Conservancy bought the developer’s property and turned it over to the Bureau of Land Management. Later, the conservancy struck a deal with Crown Pacific to buy or manage another 242 acres on another side of Pointner’s property. However, the organization wasn’t as successful negotiating with Pointner for the final piece to the waterfront paradise. The conservancy wanted the property, but didn’t want to make payments based on Paintner’s mortality. Nor did it wish to name the refuge after the old curmudgeon.

A deal with Gonzaga University fell apart, too, when neighbor Duane Hagadone, at nearby Casco Bay, refused to grant access to Pointner’s property on a dirt road that presumably cut across Hagadone’s land. Gonzaga envisioned using the site for habitat and pollution research and student instruction.

Ultimately, Kootenai County and the BLM persisted in striking the unorthodox deal that cost them only a fraction of Pointner’s original asking price of $2 million. But Pointner received something his money couldn’t buy in return. By contract, he was to be buried at the refuge and his name to be immortalized – all this and a 3-foot tombstone on the new sanctuary, with an epitaph that reads: “Dead people and live animals permitted.”

Pointner’s passion for wildlife will be missed.

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